Wednesday, November 18, 2020
|Dear Oakland Unified Community,|
I am heartbroken.
While we are all going through the enormous challenges that the world is facing, from a global pandemic that only seems to be accelerating to economic recession and widespread unemployment, to political and racial unrest, my hope would be that we, as a people and as a city, would come together to support one another and unite in our common goal of ensuring the health and well-being of our children and our families. But unfortunately, our safety nets are failing and in the context of this pandemic we are losing our young people to violence.
Over and over again we have seen tragedy on our streets that is directly impacting the OUSD family. Just last week, a 7 year old student at one of our elementary schools and her mother were injured in a shooting near Lake Merritt. Our student has been released from the hospital, and her mother, who was more seriously injured, is expected to be released soon. I am so grateful they are recovering. But in many cases this year, victims of street level violence did not survive.
As you may recall, we announced in early September, less than a month into the school year, that we had lost four recent graduates and one current student to violence and a fatal car crash. After releasing that information, we learned of several other deaths that had taken place in the same time period. They included recent OUSD graduate Noel Dominguez, who was shot after leaving a memorial for another recent graduate, Sergio Martinez, who was murdered in August.
In the time since then, the tragedies have continued to mount. As I mentioned in a message a few weeks ago, Skyline High School student, Aaron Pryor, was killed in September. He had attended Greenleaf K-8 School, where that community grieves his loss, too as do McClymonds High and Fremont High, where he also attended classes. Last month, two former Madison Park Academy (MPA) students, Jorge Martinez and Juan Diaz were killed. And just two weeks ago, a recent graduate of MPA named Jonathan Torres was killed. Executive principal, Dr. Lucinda Taylor, and the MPA community are devastated by the losses they have suffered.
Also, I must add that EnCompass Academy has been in mourning this year since they learned that a 5th grader and her mother had perished in a car crash in September.
In all, we have lost more than a dozen young people, people who were taken from us far too early, in most cases, by street level violence. 2020 has been an especially difficult year for Fremont High where since the beginning of the calendar year, the school community has lost one current student (Ivan Sanchez, who passed last May) and five former students. Four of the six killings happened since the start of the pandemic. That school community is beside itself with grief.
City officials confirm that much of the violence is the result of resurging gang activity across the city. Regardless of the reason, any life lost is unacceptable. We have all seen far too many deaths in Oakland, and my heart goes out to the families and friends of all the young people mentioned above.
Any death in our school communities hits students hard, of course. But the front office staff, teachers, counselors, assistant principals, principals, and other staff who work so hard to ensure our students receive the support they need are also profoundly impacted by these losses. All of them, especially teachers who are most often with their students, are focused every day on giving them the tools they need to manage their anger and resolve conflict peacefully. Sometimes they learn no matter what they do, street level violence can still take the lives of our young people.
Those of us who pursue education as a career focus on helping students learn all they need in preparation for college, career, and community success. Most educators don’t expect to face this degree of tragedy, nor are they usually prepared for the devastating toll it takes on students and families. And it’s clear during this time of Covid, the safety net we depend on to protect our students has frayed, resulting in an increase in community violence most directly impacting our young men.
It’s in this environment that I implore all of our young people to do everything possible to seek peaceful solutions to conflict. First off, we want them healthy, so they should be staying clear of other people as much as possible anyway because of the pandemic. Every bit as important, if conflict emerges, there are leaders and elders in our schools and communities who are here to help with mediation and conflict resolution. We treasure all of our students and our graduates, and we want every one of them to enjoy long, productive, and fulfilling lives.
If you or your school community are dealing with the impact of violence, and you need support with grief or conflict resolution, you can reach out to your school principal for assistance. OUSD has a diverse and experienced crisis response team which can provide – or connect you with – needed support. Also, as a community school district we have partnerships with dozens of Oakland-based community partners who can provide support across the city. These can also be accessed through your principal or the Coordination of Services Team at your school.
As a community, we have to stop this devastating trend and save the lives of our young people. To succeed, we must work together.
With love, Dr. Kyla Johnson-Trammell
What do you think?